Brands need to utilise user-generated content – but only with a safe, scalable process in place

Marissa Masangcay works in Technical Marketing for Cloudinary, the media experience platform for many of the world’s top brands. Cloudinary’s mission is to empower companies to deliver visual experiences that inspire and connect by unleashing the full potential of their media. With more than 45 billion assets under management and 7,000 customers worldwide, Cloudinary is the industry standard for developers, creators and marketers looking to upload, store, transform, manage, and deliver images and videos online.

Just how much user-generated content (UGC) is out there right now? As of May 2019, more than 500 hours of video were uploaded to YouTube every minute; more than a billion hours of all those videos get watched every day. Facebook has more than 2.7 billion monthly active users, the vast majority of whom post and share family pics, jokes and memes.

There’s probably no way to measure all the content going up every second of every day on Amazon reviews, question-answer databases, Pinterest pins, dating app profile pics, WhatsApp family group snaps, TikTok videos, and mobile phone photography… the list is endless. Having access to all this amazing content is probably one of the biggest delights of the Internet. Yes, there can be downsides of negative comment and exposure, but the fact that you can put up your new iPhone 12 sunset pic and get compliments from strangers all over the world is pretty compelling.

Photos – the most helpful content for researching purchases?

In fact, imagery seems to be getting more and more important to us digital humans. Users agree; they love it. We know because we recently launched a study that dug into UGC trends and found that images and videos genuinely matter to a lot of people right now—especially when it comes to buying stuff: half of the respondents ranked photos as being the most helpful content for researching purchases, for example. Younger demographics in particular are gravitating to the visual: 50% of Gen Z and 49% of Millennials say pictures and videos are central to them making purchasing decisions, our research found. Overall, 58% are generating more content, including video and written reviews, compared to last year.

All in all, in a world dominated by user-generated images and video—and where consumers look to a visual component of virtual shop browsing and purchasing—visual content should be at the absolute heart of brand communications and commerce. Actually, that’s a lot of visual content of the same thing: a February 2018 survey from commerce experience firm Salsify found 60% of US digital shoppers said they needed to see an average of three or four images when shopping online; 13% wanted five or more.

Why should brands go the extra mile to support UGC? Several reasons. UGC reinforces brand authenticity, it accurately represents your product or service in a realistic context, and it strengthens your consumer relatability. If a visitor feels they share common ground with someone or see themselves reflected in the visuals a brand displays, they are so much more likely to engage (even more so if they’re one of those much-sought-after younger demographics).

In other words, you want customer pictures and testimonials on your site of your great products in use. Here’s the problem, though, and it goes back to that tsunami of content we called out that’s bashing our eyes and brains 24×7 a day: if a product page needs five or more pictures… and a video (or two), that’s image management at volume, and scale. If you invite UGC from the wide world, you might end up with ‘joke’ content that will be at the least potentially tasteless, at the worst vulgar or pornographic. Users aren’t privacy lawyers, so they may include data or details that they don’t really want shared with the universe.

UGC needs to be checked, framed, and optimised to help you

That’s the defensive side of things—filtering out content you just can’t have on your social media or website. But then there’s the positive work you’ll want to put framing the content – such as making sure it meets brand guidelines (and, as not everyone is as good a photographer as they are in the smartphone TV ads, you probably don’t want an out of focus or completely dark sequence). Finally, you need to optimise for multi-platform; the fantastic pic of the happy family using your amazing new e-bike you sold them needs to be able to appear correctly and just as nicely on as many browsers and devices you can get it on.

That’s quite a lot for any in-house web team working at a consumer brand whose marketing teams want to leverage UGC to both tap into this enthusiasm for image sharing and to get all the great brand authenticity uplift I talked about. For sure, UGC presents an excellent digital marketing opportunity, but there are issues to do with scale (how many people can you really put on the job of gatekeeping it?) also the potential pitfalls (how sure are you that every privacy or community standards slip will get caught?).

That’s a lot of repetition and work that calls for inhuman accuracy and patience. The good news is that these UGC monitoring and onboarding jobs can and should be automated by, well, machines that offer inhuman accuracy and patience! What could take your team of developers a lot of time and hassle to do manually can be achieved through AI-driven image management automation.

The highest quality user experience via automation

How do I know this is true? We help customers that have to cope with massive amounts of user-generated content every day. PetRescue is Australia’s most visited animal adoption sites, with more than 800,000 listings—the vast majority of whom have multiple pics of fur babies needing new forever homes. We’re talking a lot of UGC here; PetRescue has over 25 million such images, gets 80,000 new listings every year and there can be 30 pics per post. Luckily, by working with my company, Cloudinary, the small team there can upload, manage, optimise and help users crop and resize online all of this vast surge of user imagery—freeing up the organisation to focus on its core mission of improving animal welfare.

The verdict’s clear. It’s great to tap into the UGC phenomenon on your website, but unless you do that with a safe, scalable, and accurate process that delivers the highest quality user experience via automation, you’re just making a rod for your own back in terms of work and complexity.

Would love to talk more, but I need to comment on these 20 adorable new kitten pics that just popped up in my feed.

Photo by Malcolm Lightbody on Unsplash

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